re: Some US prisons are banning books on coding VIEW POST


I'm going to get flamed for this. I know I will get hated. But in the interest of fairness, I'm going to say it anyway.

The situation is more complicated than it seems.

While I was in seminary studying to be a Catholic priest (I left without being ordained), I had a field work assignment in Maryland's maximum security prison in Hagerstown. The men in there were not in there for drug related crimes except maybe for trafficking on an large scale. Most were in there for pretty shocking crimes. You don't get a triple life sentence for pot. Many had barely avoided the death sentence. Don't get me wrong.

I mostly liked the inmates I worked with. They were mostly OK for purposes of my weekly interaction. They liked the activities we provided as well as the chance to get out of their cells. Some were easy conversationalists. Mostly they shared my dark sense of humor.

Maryland leads the US in reducing prison population. It dropped by almost 10% in 2017.


I may be mistaken, but I don't think Maryland has for-profit prisons. Only about 1/2 the states do. Another thing often misunderstood is that while there are serious problems in our justice system and for-profit prisons are obviously problematic, only a small percentage of inmates actually live in for-profit prisons. I think it's something like 5% nationwide.

Now even though I liked a lot of the inmates that I worked with and they treated me very respectfully as a religious worker and a source of 'time out' of their cells, they could be very devious. They frequently asked me to make phone calls or carry out letters and packages for them. I couldn't do any of these things without committing a felony and, given the security measures, certainly getting caught. These attempts were silly and came from childish minds. But many of the prisoners were not so dumb. Additionally, fights, riots, and escape attempts happened. I never witnessed an act of violence during my six months there, but on a few occasions, when we arrived to work, we were turned back because the prison was on lockdown. Because of the nature of the criminals, security was a paramount concern and security flaws absolutely put the guards' lives at risk.

This was in 2006, but their computer classes did not have internet access. I don't know whether they do now. While I think it would be sad for a prisoner to be blocked from an avenue of learning, I can understand a state deciding it didn't have the resources to get into a cybersecurity arms race with a few thousand very devious and very bored guys with tons of time on their hands, some of whom are much more intelligent than might be supposed.

It may be an incorrect policy, but if Maryland's department of corrections should adopt it, I think it would be safe to say it was not for some nefarious reasons.

I think generally that when dealing with situations that are very foreign to our own experience, the best policy is to hear folks out rather than make assumptions.

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